Governor signs nondiscrimination/religious liberties bill into law

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Few bills have caused more grown men to cry while testifying at the Utah State Capitol than Senate Bill 296, Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments. The bill is the outcome of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ statement that they favor efforts at passing nondiscrimination legislation, as long as it was paired with religious freedoms legislation.

Photo: Connor Yakaitis
Photo: Connor Yakaitis

Weeks of late-night negotiations between church representatives, legislators on both sides of the aisle, representatives of Equality Utah, The National Center for Lesbian Rights, Human Rights Campaign and civil rights/religious rights legal specialist Robin Fretwell Wilson started with what those involved said was a mile-wide chasm.

“There was a lot of people and a lot of faith that went into this particular bill,” House sponsor State Rep. Brad Dee (R-Ogden) said as he voice broke with emotion on the bill’s reading on the House floor.

This is the eighth year the bill was proposed on Utah’s Capitol Hill. The first effort was proposed in 2008 by then-Rep. Christine Johnson (D-Salt Lake City). After she left the state to be the executive director of South Carolina Equality, Ben McAdams sponsored a similar bill. This is the third year Sen. Steve Urquhart (R-St. George) sponsored the measure. Last year, all bills were tabled by Republican legislators as a challenge to District Judge Robert Shelby’s decision that Utah’s Amendment 3 and other laws blocking same-sex marriage were unconstitutional made its way through the courts.

The bill passed both the Senate and the House overwhelmingly and was signed at a rally in the Utah Capitol Building Rotunda by Gov. Gary Herbert.

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  1. A casual observation, that LGBT sexual orientation, an immutable characteristic like race and gender, has to be linked to religious liberty. Yet, there is no need to legislatively link heterosexual orientation to religious liberty. These bills appear to be condoning and propagating bad logic, in the same way race was once thought to be subordinate to ones religious liberty. The US Constitution already provides protection for religious liberty, and yet has to be repackaged and sold under a different legislative wrapper for LGBT employment and housing non discrimination protections. Moreover, when they first supported the Salt Lake City employment and housing non-discrimination ordinance, the only condition for support at that time, was that it not do "violence to marriage.”.

  2. How are gay people to know now where they have human rights, and where they do not in Utah? Will there be a code for all the business: "We Discriminate Based On Religion" – or how exactly with LGBT people in Utah know where they are safe and welcomed. The exceptions in this bill for all things remotely religious – probably swallows the whole state doesn't. And as for principle and legal reasoning and logic, the cost by "common ground" below covers it well. This "compromise" has all the human rights principles turned totally upside down. The next law – should be that all business "claiming a religious exemption" to the law – should PUBLICLY post this information – or they have no exemption. Let's see where the bigots are – now that they've given themselves this legal cloak – handed to them by the LGBT movement itself, sadly.

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